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The Mavericks’ offense is lousy and other observations from Week 1

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It’s still too early to make a judgement, but here’s what we’re seeing so far from the Mavs. It’s not pretty.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Utah Jazz Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

The Mavericks are 0-4 for the first time since the 2006-07 season. Just a hunch, but I don’t think this team is going to finish with 67 wins.

It’s four games. Four bad games, but four games nonetheless. The sample is too small to make wild judgments about the Mavs, but there are things that I’m seeing that I want to talk about.

So here are some things. Perhaps not all of them will continue, but they are currently things.

The Mavs have to completely redo their offense

For years under Rick Carlisle, the Mavs employed one of the prettiest offenses in the league. Behind the greatest floor-spacing big of all time, Carlisle’s offense buried teams under a flurry of pick and rolls, ball movement and spacing.

Right now, it seems like that offense was killed and the corpse thrown in the ocean.

Some of that is expected — Dirk is older, Chandler Parsons is gone and the Mavs didn’t bring in a wing player who could replicate his skill set. Even so, the Mavs offense has looked even worse than I anticipated and may be one of the ugliest, most unimaginative offenses I’ve ever seen.

Here’s how a typical possession goes for the Mavs starters so far this year:

  • Andrew Bogut sets a down screen for a guard.
  • He stands at the top of the key.
  • He gets the ball.
  • He holds the ball.
  • He continues holding the ball for about 10 seconds.
  • Nobody gets open
  • He then either turns it over or passes it to an overwhelmed Mavs guard who hoists a late jumper.
  • Repeat.

It’s uncanny. It’s also horrendous. After the Mavs perform that dog-and-pony show for a couple of minutes and find themselves in a five to seven point deficit, Carlisle puts in J.J. Barea and the offense slowly transforms.

This has to change. Wednesday night against Utah, Bogut had three turnovers and no assists. The Mavs were dead in the water until they put in Dwight Powell and actually ran some damn pick and rolls. Dirk got a couple good looks at three, the ball didn’t stick and the Mavs actually got shots in the paint.

The Mavs guards outside of Barea are doo-doo at the pick and roll, but that doesn’t mean the Mavs need to abandon something that has been a staple of their offense for a decade. Things needed to be tweaked with Harrison Barnes for sure, but this is too much. The Mavs play way too conservatively and too slowly. It’s a hot potato offense that just pings that ball around the three-point line while posing no real threat. Entering the Utah game, Dallas was dead last in paint touches per game according to NBA.com.

That’s a problem.

Andrew Bogut has been an absolute disaster

In the second half against Houston on Sunday night, Bogut gave me hope. He guarded the rim well and offered excellent support to Wes Matthews in shutting down James Harden and limiting the runs to the basket the Rockets enjoyed in the first half.

I thought Bogut might have turned a corner. Nope.

Bogut went back to being terrible Wednesday against the Jazz, holding the ball an insane amount of time, making bad passes and generally being a zero on offense.

While he’s not known for his offensive prowess, I expected more than this. Bogut isn’t Zaza Pachulia rolling down the lane, but at least Zaza actually did it. So far, Bogut hasn’t attempted one shot as the roll man in the pick and roll, and he hasn’t been diving or setting any on-ball screens to help the Mavs’ mediocre guards.

If Bogut isn’t setting screens and rolling hard to try and suck in defenders to free up Dirk, he’s just standing around the elbows and allowing his man to roam free to other threats on offense. Bogut has to do more on offense. He doesn’t have to shoot or score more, but he has to do more than hold the rock near the free throw line for half a possession.

On defense, it hasn’t been much better. Bogut’s gone against some stretch bigs that have drawn him away from the basket, and he’s suffered because of it. He’s looked disinterested, slow to react and just generally bleh. Part of that is the Mavs’ conservative pick and roll defensive scheme, but the energy hasn’t been there from Bogut.

Last point — the Bogut-Dirk pairing has been hot garbage. In their two games and 22 minutes of time shared on the floor, the Mavs have a minus 60.8 rating. Yes, minus. As in negative.

Bogut not being effective next to Dirk is a big problem and a big reason why Carlisle has rolled with a lot of Dirk-at-center lineups.

Deron Williams is not a lead ball-handler anymore

Bless Williams, who’s doing about the best he can on old and tired legs. He’s actually been better than last season in a lot of ways, particularly when it comes to his shooting. Williams knocking down his open jumpers is huge, considering his shooting numbers were painfully average last season.

But he can’t get into the paint. He just can’t. Williams’ inability to get around the screen in a pick and roll is a concern we’ve brought up many times around here, and he hasn’t done anything to reassure us this season. The Mavs had Raymond Felton and Chandler Parsons to hide that a bit last year. There’s no hiding it now.

Williams is scoring 0.78 points per possession as the ball handler in the pick and roll, and many Mavs possessions have died after Williams failed to get below the free throw line. It’s a shame because his jumper has looked so good. If only the Mavs had a shooting guard who was really good with the ball in his hands... wait where is everyone going, no come back!

Justin Anderson hasn’t looked great — but he still has powerful, raw potential

It pains me to say that the Mavs’ most promising young player in over a decade has struggled, but watching Anderson hasn’t been much fun so far.

His raw stats look fine, but with Anderson on the floor the Mavs give up 107 points per 100 possessions. He’s been beaten on a couple of back-door cuts and has missed assignments in transition. The Mavs just don’t look great when he’s on the floor, and he hasn’t made the consistent impact I’d like to see.

Of course, it isn’t all bad. Anderson still makes one or two plays a game that no other player on the roster can make. I’m pretty sure he’s already a better passer than Barnes, and his shot looks better. Hopefully as the season continues, Anderson will pair his highlight plays with more steady play possession to possession.

Harrison Barnes can’t create, but he can finish

Barnes has played four games and has two assists. That’s OK.

We all knew that wasn’t part of his game and it was going to be work. What we were hopeful/worried about was Barnes ability to knock down shots outside of Golden State and how he’d handle his efficiency playing with worse offensive teammates and a bigger role.

So far, so good. He’s shooting 50 percent from the floor and all his shots have been natural shots for his skill set — pull-up jumpers, post-ups and spot-up jumpers. What’s been great has been Barnes’ ability in the pick and roll and not in the way you’d think.

Barnes still isn’t a ball handler in the pick and roll, but he’s been a great finisher as the roll man. Through the first three games, Barnes was scoring 1.5 points per possession as the roll man, hitting four of six shots with no turnovers. He’s decisive and confident when he receives the ball after setting a screen on ball, either launching a nice pick and pop midrange jumper or attacking a slow-rotating defender for a better look. He’s even rolled all the way to the rim for a dunk.

That data was before the Utah game, and it probably looks even better now because Barnes canned a couple more jumpers popping to the short corner baseline after setting a screen in the middle of the floor. That baseline midrange area is starting to become a sweet spot for Barnes.

More of this please, especially when the Mavs’ offense is stagnating a ton.

Not worried about Wes ... yet

Here’s the thing about Wes: he shouldn’t be doing this.

He shouldn’t be taking 18 shots a game. He shouldn’t be asked to create. He shouldn’t be asked to be an offensive focal point.

So sure, if you’re asking Wes to do all that, he’s going to struggle. Which he has.

Here’s the one tiny, teeny problem — Wes is shooting 25 percent on what NBA.com/stats considers wide open (closest defender 6+ feet away) three-pointers. On “open” (defender 4-6 feet away) threes, he’s shooting 17 percent.

That’s the one worry. Well, for us at least.

The bench still needs to be sorted

J.J. Barea is by far the Mavs’ best dribble penetrator, which makes things awkward for the starters when they fall behind every first quarter behind a listless offense. I’m not sure if it’ll happen, but Barea probably needs to start.

After that, Salah Mejri has looked good in small doses and was criminally underused against Utah. Seth Curry is showing why he was available for so cheap this summer, but I’m confident he’ll be fine. Dwight Powell is perhaps the only player on the roster that’s scary rolling down the lane, but his defense is a minus. Speaking of ...

Dallas needs to figure out what to do with all their one-way players

Fact: the Mavericks’ best offensive players are Dirk, Barea and (off-the-ball) Deron

Fact: the Mavericks’ best defenders are Bogut, Anderson and Wes Matthews

Fact: Bogut, Matthews and Anderson have been crap on offense

Taken together, these facts have made it difficult for Carlisle to find a line-up that works on both ends of the court. The starters can’t score, so Barea comes in. He does OK, but he comes in for Dirk so they still can’t really score. Or Dirk checks in for Bogut and they go small with Dirk at center but then the Mavs can’t get stops.

Basically, Barea being the Mavs’ best offensive guard makes it really tough for the team to score and defend with the same lineup. Utah on Sunday basically ran the “let’s take turns scoring on J.J.” offense when Barea checked in during the first half.

Solving this problem will probably be Rick’s biggest challenge. How in the hell does he balance offense and defense with so many players who are good on one end but can’t hold their own on the other? I’m not sure, but the Mavs need him to figure it out sooner rather than later.